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2020 San Francisco Pride 'will look very different,' ED says

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The Apple contingent sported rainbow-colored balloons in last year's San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
The Apple contingent sported rainbow-colored balloons in last year's San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

San Francisco Pride is working with City Hall to make major changes to the 50th annual parade and festival, which is scheduled for June 27-28, in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

"It is apparent that SF Pride will look very different from the two-day celebration that we initially envisioned, and we continue to work closely with our partners at City Hall to evaluate all available options," SF Pride Executive Director Fred Lopez wrote in a Facebook post April 7.

Lopez added that the organizing committee for the largest LGBT Pride celebration on the West Coast anticipates "being able to share what we've learned very soon."

The acknowledgement that this year's two-day celebration and parade would not go off as planned came a day after the Bay Area Reporter reported Monday that SF Pride is facing growing pressure to postpone the event and that a meeting was planned this week between city officials and the organizers of not only the annual Pride celebration but also the Trans and Dyke marches.

As other media outlets picked up on the story Tuesday, and organizers of Boston's Pride scrapped their celebration in early June, calls for changes in San Francisco Pride's golden anniversary only grew louder.

In his Facebook post, Lopez alluded to the internal debate SF Pride officials are having on how to mark the event's milestone year while also taking into consideration the need to protect the health of participants and attendees. The event draws hundreds of thousands of people from across the Bay Area, California, and around the country.

"We know that many people want to see a commemoration of Pride50, and we also hold the safety and well-being of our LGBTQ+ communities at the highest priority," wrote Lopez. "The global Pride network is responding in unique and creative ways to the challenge of physical distancing, and SF Pride plans to be a part of those efforts while developing some new plans of our own."

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Wednesday that it is unlikely Pride will be able to go forward as originally planned.

"It may not be possible to expect that we can launch a large scale event with millions of people descending on San Francisco," Breed said in an April 8 news conference. "I'm not sure that will be possible."

Carolyn Wysinger, the president of SF Pride's board of directors, told KGO-TV that "all options are on the table" in an April 8 interview on that station's evening newscast.

"We see so many things in this situation changing every day," Wysinger said.

A KGO-TV correspondent said that final decisions are expected by next week.

The shelter-in-place orders in seven Bay Area counties (including San Francisco), designed to halt the spread of the new coronavirus are currently scheduled to remain in place through May 3, though schools around the state will not be reopening this academic year. The statewide order for people to remain home and non-essential businesses to close, from the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom, has no expiration date.

But LGBT elected leaders and longtime activists are worried that even if some semblance of normalcy is restored to daily life before late June, it may not be the best time from a public health perspective for the city to host an event that annually boasts an attendance of up to 1 million people.

"Honestly, it is hard to imagine Pride coming together in its traditional form less than three months from now," gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told the Bay Area Reporter on April 3. "Ultimately, public health will dictate whether and in what form this year's Pride celebration can occur."

Nicky "Tita Aida" Calma, one of the organizers of the Trans March, which traditionally takes place the Friday of Pride weekend, stated that there would be a meeting this week to discuss next steps.

"Thank you for your inquiry. As of the moment, we are going to be holding meetings with SF Pride, Dyke March, and the City & County of SF to discuss all the events happening in June, hopefully, next week," Calma wrote in an April 3 email to the B.A.R. "We will issue a statement once a decision has been made and I do not know when that will happen."

But as late as April 3, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was planning for Pride 2020 — the annual commemoration of the Stonewall Riots that sparked the modern LGBT rights movement in the United States — to proceed as normally scheduled.

"Right now, we are still processing requests and permits past the period of shelter-at-home," Nick Chapman, a manager with the SFMTA (which deals with the street closures associated with SF Pride and other major civic events), told the B.A.R. by phone April 3. "But everyone is aware the situation could change; new orders could come into play."

As the B.A.R. previously reported, Pride celebrations have been postponed in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma County. New York City Pride, which is scheduled for the same dates as its San Francisco counterpart, was slated to go on as scheduled at press time. New York City currently has the largest novel coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

The San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee stated in a Facebook post March 24 that "all options are on the table."

"While abiding by the city's COVID-19 shelter-in-place directive, our staff and board continue to forge ahead, cautiously optimistic that taking sensible — if unprecedented — measures now will enable us to celebrate Pride 50 together as a community," the post stated.

When asked via email March 30, SF Pride Executive Director Fred Lopez said that the statement "still applies."

"We have no additional updates to announce at this time," Lopez wrote. "Since COVID-19 emerged, we have been exploring alternatives to what we initially imagined for Pride 50, and in light of today's extension of the shelter-in-place order (from April 7 until May), we will continue working with our partners at the city to determine the best course of action. We hope everyone remains safe and healthy."

Lopez had said the situation would be clear "by about mid-April." But some want a decision now.

Larry Nelson, who created the 2018 "Generations of Strength" SF Pride theme that was spun off to create the 2019 "Generations of Resistance" and the 2020 "Generations of Hope" themes, stated that although he has a "special affinity" for SF Pride, it is time to make a decision.

"We are past the time for SF Pride to step up and make an announcement that our annual celebration will be postponed," Nelson wrote to the B.A.R. April 4. "We don't know how long this crisis will last. Of course, postponement is preferred. ... It goes without saying, but bears repeating, that this is not our first pandemic, unfortunately, that our wonderful San Francisco community has faced. We know what we should do. The SF Pride board needs to make a decision now."

It is unclear what will emerge in San Francisco and the Bay Area once the stay-at-home orders are lifted. But it's been reported that many experts believe there will be a gradual easing of physical distancing requirements over time, rather than everything reopening at once.

Ken Jones, who had been the first African American chair of SF Pride's board of directors, wrote in a Facebook post that he would be "very disappointed if it came to that," in terms of postponing the Pride parade but added that the board members "will debate the issue more fully."

When asked to expound upon this, Jones told the B.A.R. he had several considerations in mind.

"Whenever a community of people have been challenged to alter and change their way of life for the sake of humanity, and our survival, there has to be a signal, a word, a sign that this battle is over," Jones wrote. "If we are doing (continue doing) what we are supposed to be doing (and not three ZIP codes away from home) but continue to shelter in for just three more weeks, we will have made it through this."

Jones said that it would be hard to find an alternative date in 2020 "between July and November that will not be a major conflict with another major Bay Area event."

"I believe we can do this. I believe we must do this," Jones added, finishing by saying that he has a vision of the San Francisco LGBTQ community setting a record for the world's largest group hug.

"What better occasion than Pride," Jones wrote.

Mayor London Breed's office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Updated: 4/9/20: This article was updated to include comments from the mayor and SF Pride board president.

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